by Martin Maenza
Aboard a spacecraft orbiting the Earth above Midway City, an alien couple received an unexpected but always welcome guest. A small figure, barely six inches tall, materialized on the top of a console thanks to a teleportation beam from a nearby satellite.
“Ray, what a pleasant surprise!” said a tall figure of a man, his torso bare except for the crisscross yellow harness that kept his uniform’s wings secured. The muscular man also wore green pants with red trunks and boots; the upper portion of his head and face sat beneath a feathery helmet that resembled that of a mighty bird of prey. “I wish you had let us know you were coming, though.”
“Really,” said a red-haired beauty who entered the chamber. Like her husband, she wore a similar costume with only a slight difference — a yellow, form-fitting tunic covered her shapely torso. “Katar could have whipped us up something to eat.”
The Atom chuckled. “That’s OK, Hawkgirl,” the tiny hero said. “I’m not really here for a free meal, anyway.”
“Your loss,” Hawkgirl replied, removing her mask. “You’d be amazed what a wonderful cook he is. He always had a reputation as one of the finest on the force back on Thanagar.”
“Is that why you married me, Shayera?” Hawkman said with a smile. “For my cooking talents?”
“That,” Hawkgirl replied, “and so many others!” She gave him a knowing wink.
The Atom laughed again at their playful banter. How wonderful these two made marriage seem. It made him want to settle down; if only he could get his girl Jean Loring to slow down a bit with her legal career. Ah well, perhaps someday. “Have I told you guys how great it is to have you back here again?”
“Only about a dozen times or so in the time since our return from Thanagar,” Hawkman said. His voice trailed off slightly as he thought about his homeworld, which was still suffering from the Equalizer’s disease. The condition, released by an alien’s strange microbes, caused all the sentient beings on that world to become equals in ability and characteristics. It was for this reason that the couple had left Thanagar again, only to be cured of the condition later. With time, they hoped to find a way to bring a cure safely back to their people. Meanwhile, they were to remain on Earth, their adopted home, once more. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “I Have No Wings and I Must Fly,” Justice League of America #117 (April, 1975).]
Hawkgirl noticed the mood of melancholy sweeping over her husband and was quick to counter it. “So, Atom, what brings you to our ship? You have yet to say.”
“Oh, right,” the Atom said. “Sorry.” He clicked the hidden controls in his costume, causing himself to expand to his normal height in an instant. Gone was the red and blue costume he wore as the Atom, and in that place the brown-haired Ray Palmer stood dressed in jeans and a white shirt. “I have something I wanted to share with you both.”
Reaching into his pocket, Ray produced a sheet of paper. Unfolding it, he handed it to Hawkman. “Check it out, Carter,” he said, then clicked his hidden controls again, shrunk back to the six-inch size so his costume would reappear, and hopped back on his sometime-partner’s shoulder.
Hawkman straightened the paper and began to read it. “Why, it’s a telegram!”
“Yep,” the Atom said. “It came to me in care of the university in Ivy Town.”
“What does it say, Katar?” asked Hawkgirl.
“It appears to be an invitation,” Hawkman said, “to the annual Halloween celebration in Rutland, Vermont.”
“Rutland, Vermont?” she asked. “Didn’t you and a number of the other Justice Leaguers attend that last year?”
“Yes,” Hawkman said, “though not by any invitation from any committee. The one called the Phantom Stranger mysteriously showed up at the JLA Satellite to request our assistance and then whisked us off to the festivities.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “A Stranger Walks Among Us,” Justice League of America #103 (December, 1973).]
“I remember reading about the case,” the Atom said. “Anyway, it seems you guys were such a big hit last year that they wanted some guest heroes for this year’s pageant. Given I’m one of the active heroes in the New England area, they sent this telegram invitation to me. I thought that perhaps you two would like to join me. It might be fun.”
“I don’t know,” Hawkman started to say.
“Oh, Katar, why not?” Hawkgirl said. “I hear that part of the country is lovely in the fall, and it might be good for us.” She put her hands upon his free shoulder. “What do you say?”
Hawkman looked in his wife’s eyes and saw her excitement. She was always able to influence him with the simplest of looks. “All right,” he finally agreed. “We’ll go with Ray.”
The Atom raised his hands in a cheer. “Great!”
A gray metal truck with an enclosed and locked-back section moved down the darkened highway. In the back, on a makeshift bench, sat a red-haired man with a wisp of a beard on his chin. Dressed in gray prison clothes and with his hands cuffed together, Mark Mandrill sulked.
Only a few months ago, he was free from incarceration with hardly a care in the world. The thief had been safely hiding out where any of his foes would be hard pressed to locate him. The Matter Master had been free to plot as he saw fit.
His only mistake was due to the workings of his own subconscious mind; part of Mark Mandrill was very distraught over the departure of his old sparring partner, Hawkman. In fact, during one of his extensive periods of special sleep, his mind acted out on its own. Using the power of the Mentachem Rod, a special device the criminal employed, his subconscious mind reached out across Midway City and found a young orphaned teenager who worshipped Mandrill’s hated enemy. The rod’s special abilities over matter altered young Charley Parker’s clothes, turning him into a pseudo-Hawkman.
The boy used this gift to do as his idol would do, even helping collar criminals and leaving them gift-wrapped for Commissioner Emmett. Eventually, the boy’s exploits brought in the attention of the Justice League. That, in turn, led the Matter Master into direct conflict with the heroes. In the end, with the help of the boy, the villain was defeated and arrested.
Now, Mandrill was on his way back to a maximum security prison to complete his previous sentence, plus extra time for his last escape. “If only I had the Rod now,” he muttered. “I’d turn this truck into a soap bubble with a wave of my wrists.” As he said this, Mark moved his hands. The clanking of the chains only further reminded him of the futility of his present situation.
Up front in the cab section of the truck, his two escorts that worked for the prison system were talking among themselves. “We never get any of the exciting prisoners out here,” the red-haired driver said.
“Like who, Ollie?” the dark-haired man asked. He took a slurp of his coffee from a Styrofoam cup.
“Oh, I don’t know, Stan,” said the driver. “How’s about Luthor? He’s a pretty big name.”
“One of the biggest,” Ollie agreed.
“Or Captain Cold or Mirror Master. Someone colorful like that. Or maybe even the Joker! Now there’s a name! But the Matter Master? Who really cares about that guy?”
“I don’t know,” Ollie said. “Maybe handling the lesser crooks ain’t all that bad. It has its pluses.”
“Yeah?” countered Stan, facing his friend. “Like what?”
“Less chance to end up dea… look out!”
Stan put his eyes back to the road just in time to see what Ollie was pointing to.
There, in the beams of the headlights in the center of the road, was a figure that they were approaching fast. It was a man in white, or appeared to be one. But he wasn’t moving at all.
Instinctively, Stan cut the steering wheel sharp to one side while slamming on the breaks. The truck seemed to pass harmlessly right through the man as it swerved off the road, bounding over a short embankment and running headlong into a large tree. The two drivers were hurled forward into the windshield with a great force. The front hood was thrown open, and the horn began to blare uncontrollably.
In the back, Mark Mandrill was thrown forward rather urgently. His shoulder slammed hard into the wall with a thud. “Ooof!” It was throbbing with pain, but he couldn’t reach up to rub the sore spot. He was just thankful he hadn’t hit his head. “What the hell is going on up there?”
The back doors of the truck suddenly began to rattle. Mark tried to rise to his feet, assuming it was the drivers coming to check on him. “I can’t wait to complain about these idiots to the Prisoners’ Rights Board,” he said.
The handle to the door on the right began to turn, and the door opened slowly with a creak. “Come, Matter Master,” an eerie voice said. A white-gloved hand, attached to no arm, beckoned him out of the vehicle. “It is time for some revenge!”
Sometime later, in a dead end alleyway in a small town, two figures slipped into the back door of an old abandoned book store. “I’ve got to hand it to you,” Mark Mandrill said. “You sure pulled off that breakout with style.” As Mandrill closed the door behind them, a hand reached up and pulled the light switch.
The back office area was lit up by a single bulb in the ceiling. Standing before the red-haired man was an apparition, a spectral figure dressed in pure white colonial clothes, including a top hat and cape. The figure also had a monocle that sat roughly where his left eye would be, if he actually had body parts that were visible.
“To the unsuspecting eye, the truck crash will look like an accident,” the Gentleman Ghost said. “We do not want anyone suspicious until we have been able to put my plan into action.”
“So, what do you have in mind, Ghost?”
The Gentleman Ghost went to one of the shelves and produced a neatly folded pile of green robes and a red cape. “Here, change out of those prison grays first,” he said. “Then we will introduce you to our partner.”
Mark Mandrill took the items and started to unfold them. “My costume?” he said, also noticing the green hat with white stars. It was all here. “This will certainly make me more at home, but…”
“You will need this, too,” the Gentleman Ghost added, producing a thin wand from his empty sleeve.
“The Mentachem Rod?” Mark cried. “Is that really mine?”
“Of course,” the Ghost said flatly. “You would be of no use to me without it. Now, dress! Then join me in the next room.” The spectral figure moved toward the door opposite the one they entered in from the street and passed right through the wooden portal as if it wasn’t even closed.
Mark felt a slightly chill run up his spine. “Brrr,” he said as he started to undress. “Hate when he does that.” He quickly stripped down to his underwear and then donned the costume he wore as Matter Master. When he was happy with his appearance, he tucked the Mentachem Rod in his waist pocket, opened the door, and stepped into the next room.
A wafting smell of incense filled the air of the dimly lit book store. Matter Master carefully moved along the shelves toward the candlelit center of the shop. There, seated in a large chair, was a man in midnight blue robes and a similarly colored hat with a moon symbol raised on top. The figure pored over a large book, lost with the brown-edged brittle pages of the ancient tome.
The Gentleman Ghost hovered near the seated man. “Matter Master, may I introduce our colleague,” he said. “This is Felix Faust.”
The sinister sorcerer glanced up from his book, raised a single eyebrow, and then went silently back to his reading.
“A social fellow, ain’t he?” Matter Master said.
“There is a time for talking and a time for doing!” Faust said as he kept his nose down. “I’m not in this to make with the small talk.”
“Faust is researching some incantations needed,” the Ghost said. “When we attack our mutual foes, Hawkman and Hawkgirl, we want a horde of demonic warriors with which to wear them down.”
“I’ll need a few things to help with the incantation,” Faust said in a demanding tone.
“You’ll have them,” the Ghost simply replied.
“Even the Cauldron of Kordron?” Faust asked with an eager eye.
“And the Altar of Ratla,” the Ghost countered. Faust’s eyes glazed over at the thought of being close to such mystical treasures. “All will be arranged for you when we strike at them in Vermont.”
“Vermont?” asked Matter Master. “Why Vermont? Why not Midway City?”
“Rutland, Vermont, has its own rather unique mystical aura,” the Ghost explained. “The perfect place to launch an attack of a supernatural nature. Plus, I have it on good authority that the accursed winged duo will be attending festivities there on All-Hallows Eve.”
“Rutland on Halloween,” Faust muttered. “Yes, it will be good to try again…” His voice trailed off.
Matter Master pondered for a moment. While the Ghost was very mysterious, he felt he could trust the spirit. After all, the man had sprung him from incarceration and reunited him with his weapon. Faust, however, was another matter. Matter Master had heard talk of the sorcerer in some circles. If half the strange things he had heard about Faust were true, the man would truly do just about anything for power. Matter Master was determined to keep his Mentachem Rod on his person at all times, just in case.
A blue Buick sedan with four passengers headed north on I-87 in New York state. Two older young men about age nineteen sat in the front seat, while two younger, just over seventeen, sat in the back. They were each dressed in colorful costumes befitting the day.
“Hey, Chuck, how much longer?” a dark-haired teen in back said. He wore a furry ape costume. The mask sat on the backseat staring with vacant eyes.
“About another hour or so,” the driver said. He wore brown robes over his clothes and some ceremonial crosses about his neck for his monk’s costume. “We’re almost to Glens Falls, then we turn off on the 4 to head into Vermont.”
Barely glancing up from his magazine, the other teen in the back seat said, “I told you not to get the big Coke back there when we stopped for gas, Martin.” This teen wore blue tights and a red cape and boots, like his favorite hero, Superman.
“Its not that. This monkey suit is just hot, is all.”
“I can’t believe you’re dressed up like Gorilla Grodd,” Chuck said.
“The hard part was tricking my folks,” Martin explained. “I told my Mom I was going as King Kong. That’s about the only way she’d let me out of the house. I should have insisted on putting it on after we got to the parade spot.” He rolled down the back window and stuck his head out in the rushing wind to help cool off. “Ah, that’s better.”
Martin closed his eyes for a second, then opened them. He saw something streak across the sky in the late afternoon sun. “Holy cow!” he exclaimed, pulling his head back in the car. “Did you guys see that?” He tapped the shoulder of the guy in the front passenger seat. “Harvey, tell me you saw that!”
“I didn’t see anything,” the young man in green said as he focused on the small mirror that was attached to the back of the down visor before him. “I’m too busy trying to get this spirit gum to hold the beard to my face the right way.” Harvey worked the fake blonde mustache and beard, trying his best to get the look just perfect.
“You should have gone with Green Arrow’s old look, Harv,” Chuck said. “Much easier to do.”
“But not nearly as cool-looking,” Harvey replied.
The gorilla-suited youth turned to his friend in back. “How’s about you, Starsky? You see them fly by?”
Starsky dropped the magazine to face his friend. “Oh, come on, Martin. You always think you’re spotting heroes go by. I think the heat’s getting to you.”